Robert Kennedy, 44 Years Later

by Michael Potemra

It was 44 years ago today that Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. It was one of the most searing events in an already turbulent time in our nation’s history. A president who had won a stunning landslide just three years earlier was forced to abandon his reelection campaign in the middle of a bloody and controversial foreign war and burgeoning domestic unrest; just three years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act that tore down the barriers to the full rights of citizenship for black people, the greatest American civil-rights champion of the 20th century was murdered. In the midst of this national upheaval, Robert Kennedy was running on a platform of opposition to the Vietnam War and a desire to concentrate on domestic healing (through, it can be presumed, liberal social and economic policies). Would he have a chance to win at the Democratic convention, in the face of a party establishment whose delegates seemed locked in to supporting the Johnson administration and its heir apparent, Hubert Humphrey? No — unless he could win, and win convincingly, in California. If he did that, he just might be able to convince the various party bosses, including Chicago’s legendary Mayor Richard Daley, that the political winds were shifting and it was time to make a decisive break with the administration.

It was in this atmosphere of high drama that the events of June 5, 1968, unfolded: giddy triumph followed by unspeakable tragedy. I do not have any personal memories of that day — not surprisingly, since I was only four (though, strangely enough, I do remember the shock of the assassination of Dr. King that took place two months earlier). But this ten-part video — in total, about 100 minutes long — captures the events with heartbreaking immediacy. It consists entirely of live TV coverage that appeared on CBS News. (It’s quite a time capsule; there’s even a cameo appearance by an avuncular Ronald Reagan, less than 18 months into his first term as governor of California.)

To watch this video is to be reminded, at a dark time in our nation’s history, that we have been through dark (perhaps even darker?) times before. One can view that as cause for further sadness, or as encouraging, according to one’s temperament.

In any case, this is one of the most dramatic, and poignant, political videos you will ever see.

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